The Gates Foundation, Colleen Oliver and Memphis as the Epicenter of Urban Education Reform

Colleen Oliver, Senior Program Officer of US Education with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spoke to the MTR Class of 2011 on July 8th. Colleen shared the Gates’ core values of their foundation: (1) Every person has equal value; and, (2) Every person has the right to a healthy and productive life. These two values drive their investments into three primary areas: (1) Global Health (malaria, AIDS, polio, maternal health care); (2) Global Development (micro-finance, agriculture, clean water, green efforts); and, (3) US-Based Programs (urban education and Northwest US efforts). As support, Colleen shared that 1,000,000 students drop out of school every year in the US and more than 1,000,000 Africans die of malaria every year.

A few of the many fascinating subjects / comments she touched on included:

1. As Memphis’ faith-based community goes, so goes the work in Memphis. Memphis’ faith-based community is our city’s greatest asset.

2. “If I could have all of you in my school, we would solve all the problems.”

3. Memphis absolutely is the epicenter of urban education reform in America. Memphis has all the demographics and challenges of the largest districts in America but (as the 24th largest district in the US) is yet small enough to quickly see cause and effect of reform efforts. Therefore, we’ve become this great laboratory for many local and national efforts.

So, as Colleen said, “If we can do it here then there will be NO EXCUSE… If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere in our nation. And it will happen here.”

4. Teachers make the difference. Great teachers in every classroom is the strategy to make it happen. And therefore the MTR -in training great teachers for every classroom- is the right place at the right time.

We really are the very tip of the arrow in urban reform… for Memphis and for our nation.